10 February 2001 to 6 May 2001
6 May 2001
We're experiencing some amazingly gorgeous weather in this part of the world, so let's keep the introduction short and get straight to the reviews!
Donna Scanlon begins the day with an enthusiastic review of The Song of the Selkie, a CD of folklore combined with harp music by Heather Yule and the Washington Area Folk Harp Society. Yule, Donna says, "evokes the images with enthusiasm and gives them a life which comes across well in the recorded medium. ... The Song of the Selkie is destined to be a family favorite."
Donna continues on in a Celtic vein with Manus Maguire's Saffron and Blue. The Sligo fiddler "takes a solo bow from his bands Buttons and Bows and Moving Cloud to produce a rich and varied CD of original and traditional fiddle tunes," Donna says. "Maguire's musicianship is faultless. The mood is unfrenzied and stately, and the livelier jigs and reels are performed with understated and elegant simplicity."
Tom Knapp is next with Make It On Time from the Maritime-rockin' bagpipe band Rawlins Cross. "Playing in the background, Make It On Time would probably come across as a straight rock album," Tom says. "But Celtic-Canadian rockers Rawlins Cross aren't so easy to place in a slot, blending enough elements of their Scots-Irish and Maritimes heritage to make the music stand out in your memory."
Cheryl Turner is impressed with the dueling-fiddles approach of sisters Gretchen and Rebecca Koehler on their album Parallel Lines. "The arrangements are excellent, and the playing well-divided amongst the two siblings, who have obviously learned to share with one another." Cheryl says. "Both Rebecca and Gretchen are adept at playing solos, melodies and harmonies in an energetic, danceable and appealing style."
Charlie Gebetsberger has a peek into Underworld, the latest new-agey Celtic selection from Dagda. "The strength of the album lies in the solid infusion of Celtic themes and modern arrangements in every track," Charlie says. "Rich in sound, and deep in composition, it's a solid album of melodic harmony and Celtic flavor that could whisk you away on a journey to your inner Celtic self."
Charlie crosses genres a second time with the John Wright Band and it's Celtic-tinged folk album, Language of the Heart. "While I could go on about the songs, it's the talent of the band that makes these melodies so powerful," Charlie says.
Amanda Fisher takes us for a walk in the country with Bob Grez and Ain't Plain Country. "Grez has a pleasant voice, and the accompaniments are nicely done," Amanda says. "This is traditional country focusing on traditional country themes, but without much of a twangy edge."
Next, Amanda goes for the bluegrass stylings of Stir Fried and Last of the Blue Diamond Miners. "Stir Fried takes country and bluegrass, fuses them with rock and funk, and creates a solid and exciting sound with broad appeal," Amanda says. "I'd recommend it to anyone intrigued by their mix of influences ... and it would be great for lively parties, too!"
Chet Williamson hits the jazz front with Grand Slam's Live at the Regattabar. "It was a great night for both the musicians and the listeners, and I'm glad we have this aural souvenir of it," Chet says. "I really wish I'd been there, and when you hear it, you'll feel the same. This is jazz at its best -- wise, adventurous, and unpredictable."
Still in the jazz field, Richard Cochrane examines a re-release of Lol Coxhill's Toverbal Sweet ... Plus. "Within a few minutes he has reminded us how beautifully he can play, and also how weirdly and with what ferocity and slapstick self-delfation, and how he was doing all of this 25 years ago as he continues to do today," Richard says.
Wil Owen takes a global view with David Burgess and Silver Nuggets & Fool's Gold. The instrumental CD spotlights the musical styles of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Cuba, Paraguay, Peru, Spain and Venezuela, and Wil says "Burgess is a talented guitar player for sure."
Donna Scanlon is back with a glimpse into Amelia's Dream and Love Tattoo. "It's an eclectic acoustic and electronic mix featuring supple vocals and fresh sounding arrangements," Donna says.
Rachel Jagt didn't get what she expected when she stuck Ina May Wool's Moon Over 97th Street into her stereo. "Just when I expected another boring New York City singer-songwriter with the same ethereal voice and the same soft-spoken songs about the same old thing, along came Ina May Wool," Rachel says. "She has a bit of a growl to her voice, earnest and varied songs, and an almost country feel to her music."
Rachel found even more country in the music of Don Morrell and After All These Years. "Morrell has a strong voice, a kind of classic rock 'n' roll country croon with an attitude simmering just below the surface," Rachel says. "He rides the fence between country and rock very well."
It's always a risk to put your music out for public inspection. In this case, it didn't pan out for Marilyn Harris, whose CD Between the Lines utterly failed to impress reviewer Sean Simpson. No, really, he hated it.
Julie Bowerman is next with a pair of fanticiful textbooks from the realm of wizard-to-be Harry Potter: J.K. Rowling's whimsical Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Quidditch Through the Ages. Rowling, Julie says, "obviously had fun ghostwriting this addendum to her series. And it benefits a good cause."
Amanda Fisher shows what's it's really like to lambaste a piece of prose; if you'd like to see a real beating, read what Amanda has to say about Brian Wallace's Labyrinth of Chaos. She turns purple prose black and blue.
Adam Lipkin was nearly as hard on Caleb Carr's Killing Time. "The world and concept that Carr has created are fascinating, and would more than make up for the threadbare plot -- if there was any sense of character development," Adam says. "However, Carr's characters are unredeemingly two-dimensional, and hardly work even as archetypes."
Amy Harlib marks her 50th Rambles review with My Cat Spit McGee, a memoir by Willie Morris. "The colorful Mississippi backdrop for charming and moving reminiscences, sentimental but not maudlin, makes My Cat Spit McGee a classic cat memoir to be cherished by animal lovers, fans of Willie Morris' work and admirers of great writing in general," Amy says.
Janine Kauffman (who is, we must make note, is not only great with a movie review, she's also great with child -- or, rather, with two children, who are due to make their debut in the world on or near the Fourth of July) begins our movie section with Flawless. It might not live up to its name in all ways, but it comes pretty close, Janine says. "Keep your finger on the rewind button," she urges. "Flawless is one of those films that will make you return again and again to scenes where a performance rings so true that you need to sit up and watch it another time the whole way through."
Tom Knapp has a quirky feature today ... a 1993 European film called The Advocate (a.k.a., The Hour of the Pig). "The movie is a fascinating -- if somewhat surreal and sometimes startling -- movie experience," Tom says. "Wrapped within writer/director Leslie Megahey's plot are a few satirical and serious bits about the role of women (and animals) in society, cross-cultural romance, religious bigotry, superstition and the law ... and, quite possibly, just desserts."
Tom closes down another update with a pair of graphic novels. First is the Green Lantern tale Baptism of Fire, which brings readers up to speed on a new character filling the shoes of an old and honored hero. "If you're an old GL fan and you're wondering who's the new guy with the ring, this book will give you an introduction," Tom says. "Me, I'd prefer a collection of solid Hal Jordan stories to pass the time."
Next is JLA: Year One, which reinvents DC's team of heavy-hitters in their early days in the spotlight. "This is a great book for anyone with an interest in team dynamics instead of non-stop punchfests," Tom says. "This is excellent storytelling, albeit significantly revisionistic, and it serves DC fans well."
28 April 2001
April seemed to whiz by this year, and here in Pennsylvania it was a topsy-turvy blend of winter, spring and summer days in rapid succession. Special greetings to all planning to celebrate the rites of spring on May Day, also called Beltaine, in a few days!!
Tom Knapp begins this weekend update with a new look at some old Irish songs and tunes on Frank Quinn's If You Are Irish, which was originally recorded in New York City in the 1920s and '30s. "True, the recording quality is poor," Tom says. "Yes, his reedy voice makes me wince. But considered within the proper context, this album is a landmark."
Nicky Rossiter explores the history of Irish diaspora through the Emigrant Eyes of Geraldine and Danny Doyle. "This is yet another of those non-mainstream albums that is a rare find," Nicky says. "The combination of funny and sad songs is excellent."
Cheryl Turner says the 2000 re-release of John McCutcheon's 1977 recording, The Wind That Shakes the Barley, "has a timeless quality to it, and could just as easily have been produced yesterday. In fact, it is likely that the music on this album can be better appreciated now, with the growing interest in Celtic music in recent years."
Grit Laskin keeps Cheryl in a Celtic-folk groove with Unabashedly Folk. "Laskin has been described as a 'thinking person's songwriter,' with which I would definitely concur," Cheryl says. "His albums are full of spoofs on traditional music, songs dealing with social and political issues, tongue-in-cheek humour and well-composed, catchy tunes."
Cheryl concludes her triple-slam with Ken Whiteley's bluesy Listening. "Although I found the tempo of the album to be a little slow for my own (rather manic) taste, Whiteley's style should appeal to a wide variety of listeners," Cheryl says. "He is a talented musician, both in terms of the number of instruments he plays and the talent with which he plays them."
Wil Owen takes a global perspective with Music of the Sultans, Sufis & Seraglio, Vol. III: Minority Composers by Turkish music ensemble Lalezar. "This is not a CD that will entice you to dance," Wil says. "It is a CD that will force you to focus your mind on the music. If you have a short attention span, this recording is not for you."
Amanda Fisher takes a folky, new-age spin with Beginnings from the Rainbow Chorus. Armed with the motto, "Uniting Gay and Straight Voices in Peace and Harmony," the chorus has produced "a very pleasant album, although slightly preachy, and I hope and expect the participants had a good time making it; their dedication and commitment shine through," Amanda says.
Donna Scanlon is treated to Native American imagery in Annie Humphrey's The Heron Smiled. "She also sings about relationships and love," Donna says. "It would be a mistake, however, to slot her into a specific musical category because her music is something bigger and far more universal."
Our jazz review today comes from Richard Cochrane, who spent some time with jazz-rock quartet Ponga's self-titled CD. "The sheer, driving excitement is the main thing, and the dialectical engagement with rock, sworn enemy of free jazz, is another," Richard says. "It's rude, urban, blaringly impolite. Highly recommended."
Laurie Thayer switches us from jazz-rock to folk-rock with Hitotsu by Frankie Hart & the FarAway Ensemble. "The songs sound light, almost effervescent, with nice, singable melodies, so if you like to sing along with your CDs, this one would be easy to sing with," Laurie says. "The only problem with the songs is that none of them are particularly memorable."
Rachel Jagt is similarly unimpressed with Sarah Slean's Blue Parade. "I'm a fan of sad songs -- I always have been -- but when a sad song makes you feel like jumping off a bridge instead of snuggling under the covers and listening to it over and over and over, it's just not as eternally touching," Rachel says.
For some grand guitar work and a bit of a bluegrass twang, check out Chet Williamson's review of The Legacy Continues by George Shuffler and James Alan Shelton. "You can't help but be overwhelmed by the fact that there is so much skill here, displayed so effortlessly and with such grace," Chet says. "This is guitar-playing of the highest caliber, brilliant and beautiful and indispensable for those who love the art."
Sheree Morrow has our final CD review for today: Adirondack Serenade by Christopher Shaw. Shaw, Sheree says, "should probably have been born in Texas. ... Listening to this collection of tunes I could hear Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt and Robert Earl Keen, all excellent singer/songwriters from my home state. Perhaps we should just adopt Christopher Shaw and add another incredible talent to the list."
Ellen Rawson marks her 30th Rambles review with a recent performance by Chris Wood, Roger Wilson and Martin Carthy at The Anvil in Basingstoke, England. "As the three men made clear, they're not a group," Ellen notes. "They're merely three solo performers who get together occasionally to perform in a sort of round-robin manner. May they continue to do so. Would all Sunday lunches be that pleasant!"
Tom Knapp was tickled to find a copy of Tomás O'Canainn's Traditional Music in Ireland while visiting Eire last autumn, but the book failed to live up to his expectations. "Full marks to Canainn for his scholarship; as an academic treatise on Irish music, this is very complete, very informative, very insightful," Tom says. "However, he delves so deeply into the mechanics of the music that he seems to ignore its heart."
Donna Scanlon journeys with Bill Holm in Eccentric Islands: Travels Real and Imaginary. "Holm's wit, brilliant and clear images and lucid narrative, interspersed with prose poems sometimes painfully lovely, combine into a thoughtful and thought-provoking book," Donna says. "Certainly, it will inspire some readers to look for their own islands, real or imaginary."
Donna begins today's fiction section with Julie E. Czerneda's In the Company of Others. The author "continues to produce riveting science fiction populated with appealing and convincing characters," Donna says. "Comparable to Lois McMaster Bujold's Barrayar series, Czerneda's In the Company of Others puts this talented author in stellar company as well."
Amanda Fisher hits review No. 75 with Michael Kanaly's Virus Clans. "Kanaly's prose style is very readable, and his characterizations are better than most science fiction," Amanda says. "Still, the excitement of the novel is in its ideas. The science is solid as far as this layperson can tell; I've read books on some of the areas included and the basis of the book is plausible -- which is one of the things that makes it disturbing!"
Amy Harlib has another SF title for our reading pleasure: Mars Underground by William K. Hartmann. "Hartmann is a skilled writer, managing to combine a dramatic, character-driven plot with loving and vivid depictions of Martian terrain and geology," Amy says. "Mars becomes as much a character as the three protagonists, whose romantic triangular relationship is well-developed and engrossing for its surprising harmony."
Janine Kauffman rolls the first reel in today's cinematic feature, spotlighting Judy Berlin. Focusing on a day in the life on Long Island, Janine says "some sharp performances by tried-and-true actors are thwarted by dialogue that tries a little too hard, and is a little too pleased with itself to seem spontaneous."
As promised, Tom Knapp is back with another pair of films devoted to those valorous French musketeers. First is the 1993 Disney remake of The Three Musketeers, which Tom calls "is a comedy of extremes." Next is a look at the later years of the musketeers as described in 1998's The Man in the Iron Mask. The actors in this film fill their roles "with wit, intellect and burning passion" to make a "swashbuckling good drama."
Tom's contribution to the comic arts this week focuses on an Elseworlds version of the Justice Society of America. The Liberty File takes a look at the world preceding World War II. The story, Tom says, is a "triumph," and the artwork is "dark and gritty, aptly using cinematic techniques of that era for effect."
Elizabeth Badurina is here with another zine review: Elements & Seasons, she says, is "one of those zines that you devour, then save because you know that a few months later, you'll refer back to it, or re-find it and end up reading it again."
26 April 2001
Earlier this week, I had the great fortune to see Natalie MacMaster perform in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. It was her sixth show in what will be a six-week tour with her new band, and let me say Natalie never lacks for energy! It was a treat, as always, to see this Cape Breton firebrand in action.
If you're not familiar with this extraordinary Celtic fiddler, we're here to help you! You can check out reviews of a few of her albums here; you can also read an interview with Natalie and check out a review of a live performance on a previous tour. Also, if you're not already a fan of the Cape Breton style of music, you can read up on a bunch of fine musicians from Nova Scotia and Newfoundland on our Maritimes music page.
Be sure to check back this weekend for another monster-sized edition of Rambles!
22 April 2001
It's Earth Day, and it's time to remember just how fragile our environment can be! Take some time today to walk in the woods, hug a tree, breathe the air, ponder your recycling efforts and, if you're the owner of a big industry or corporation, take a hard look at your company's ecological policies!! Meanwhile, you may enjoy a few of our Earth-friendly reviews, including several books found here in our non-fiction section.
Crystal Kocher adds a new Earth Day selection to our index with her review of Denis Hayes' The Official Earth Day Guide to Planet Repair. It is, Crystal says, "a book that every single one of us should read. Like the author says in the forward, it's very easy to become overwhelmed and to think that one person's contribution and activism is too small to count. This guide counters that attitude by offering information, ideas and resources designed to help all of us live a cleaner, healthier, and 'earth-friendly' life."
Tom Knapp marks his 600th review with Broderick's oddly covered Celtic CD Kissing Fishes. "While the instrumentals are good, the mix of instrumental and vocal tracks makes this album worth repeating," Tom says. "Add Broderick to the ranks of young bands worth watching."
Tom continues the pace with Scottish-American singer Christina Harrison's Bonnie Scotland I Adore Thee. Harrison has filled the album with ubiquitous Celtic "favorites," Tom says, but notes that "these overdone songs can be quite beautiful in the right hands, and Harrison is well-suited to the task. Her vocals are absolutely gorgeous, strong and smooth and clear, and filled with love for her homeland."
Bill Knapp heats up that father-son rivalry with his own review of Charlie Zahm's popular Festival Favorities. "The selections are varied and enjoyable," Bill says. "Also, Zahm's rich baritone, which has been described as 'coming along once in a generation,' makes for pleasant listening and even provides the temptation to sing along."
Cheryl Turner is next with Irish harper and singer Sheila Ryan's Down by the Glenside. "Ryan has a powerful and emotive voice," Cheryl notes. And, while Cheryl prefers livelier recordings, she says Ryan's CD is perfect "for the listener who prefers something gentle and relaxing, with remarkable vocals and complementary arrangements."
Dolly Parton continues performing in her bluegrass roots in Little Sparrow, and reviewer Chet Williamson says the result is a treasure -- and her lingering fame as a country singer and film star has nothing to do with the album's success. "Were she to come down today from the Tennessee hills a total unknown with her songs and her voice, within a year she would be crowned the unchallenged Queen of Bluegrass," Chet says. "She's that good."
Amanda Fisher slips into country with Katy Moffatt's Loose Diamond. "Heartbreak is one of the themes country does best, and Katy Moffatt has an ideal voice for it -- sad without being maudlin," Amanda says. "The arrangements are modern, but well within the country tradition, including a little twang in the guitars and slow fiddling that accent the heartache of the songs."
John Cross stops by with a look at European Klezmer Music by Khevrisa. "If you seek the happy, hand-clapping, spirited dance music of today's klezmer revival bands, if you want to hear wedding dance music and songs like your grandparents heard at their weddings, if you seek that faster and faster rapturous uplift that klezmer will give you, this is not the collection for you," John says. "This is an eclectic collection of the rare and unusual, of klezmer history. It is a definite must for the serious student of klezmer or of Jewish music in general."
Patrick Derksen is mighty fond of Jim Earp's solo work on Smiles to Go, a recording of traditional and original compositions for guitar. Says Patrick: "Wow, this guy is good!" Find out why by following the link.
Cheryl Turner is back for more, this time reviewing Tom Mank's recent folk 'n' blues recording Almost Time. "The lyrics, while insightful, are not exactly light-hearted," Cheryl notes. "Although I wouldn't recommend Almost Time as a cure for depression, the album had its merits, and Manks shows a good deal of both promise and talent as a singer/songwriter and a guitarist."
Richard Cochrane is up next with the self-titled release from American jazz quartet Alienstalk. "They have found the right metaphor with the concept of an alien language," Richard opines, and their music "conjures a quite breathtaking atmosphere, neither pretentious nor kitschy, neither tuneful nor freeform."
Charlie Gebetsberger says there are "very beautiful arrangements of guitar and percussion" on Stephen Cohen's folk-rockin' CD Real Life and Fiction, as well as "a nice experimental jazz feel" in the music. "Where this album seems to falter, however, is in some of the lyrical arrangements."
Donna Scanlon likes Aluminum Sea by the Mike Weterings Band, but looks for further polish in future releases. "The accompaniment arrangements are complex, tight and well-performed, but greater balance is needed so that the background complements rather than drowns the vocals," Donna says. "Weterings would also do well to focus on more positive, affirming songs and leave the angst behind; anguish does not necessarily equal depth and an upbeat song isn't necessarily fluff."
Donna leads us into the fiction section with a new take on folkloric fantasy by Jane Yolen, titled Boots and the Seven Leaguers: A Rock-and-Troll Novel. "Yolen has a good ear for teen-speak and her translation into the world of faerie is clever and convincing," Donna says. "The straightforward quest storyline is simple and effective, and the characters are appealing and interesting."
The Black Chalice by Marie Jakober has already earned its share of critical acclaim, and Laurie Thayer can see why the fantasy novel is doing so well. "The best books evoke an emotional response in the reader," Laurie says. "The Black Chalice is just such a book."
Peter Hamilton's publisher sent us the end of a lengthy series by Peter Hamilton, and Amanda Fisher says The Naked God, Part 2: Faith isn't enough to draw her back to the beginning. Still, says Amanda, "as space opera goes, it's a good one. The length allows lots of subplots to be fully realized, and Hamilton keeps things moving at a brisk and exciting pace."
Janine Kauffman throws back the doors of the Rambles cineplex for a special viewing of Happy, Texas, where a pair of escaped cons are trying to pass themselves off as pageant coaches for the town's failing Little Miss Fresh Squeezed contest. "Happy has some snags, and there are some plot problems," Janine says. But it remains, "for the most part, a happy little movie."
Tom Knapp shares a bit of French swordsmanship with us all in his reviews of two classic movies, The Three Musketeers from 1973 and The Four Musketeers from 1974. "These aren't spotless, flawless heroes by any stretch; they bumble, they grumble, they bicker and steal," Tom says. "And, of course, they always win." Tune in next week, when Tom examines a pair of more modern interpretations of the musketeer legend.
Tom ends this day with a review of the Justice League graphic novel, Heaven's Ladder. "It's a complex storyline, and even DC's large-format publication may not leave enough room to deal with it all," Tom says. "The great success of this book is writer Mark Waid's ability to write such extremely large concepts into so small a tale -- and make it work. Ditto for artist Bryan Hitch, who not only created visions of immense scale in this book, but he also drew what may be one of the best, most definitive versions of the JLA team."
14 April 2001
Happy Easter weekend! We hope everyone who goes seeking painted eggs and chocolate bunnies on Sunday finds a bountiful trove to sate their holiday spirit! Meanwhile, we at Rambles have a basketful of reviews to fill your weekend....
Tom Knapp goes down in the Cape Breton coal mines with Men of the Deeps and Diamonds in the Rough, a series of tracks primarily culled from live recordings of this hard-working chorus. "The rich history and musical culture of Cape Breton continues to astound me," Tom says. "Men of the Deeps are a worthy part of that heritage, and they deserve broader exposure in the world."
Tom also wants to share Poverty's Arse by Newfoundland band Fine Crowd. "Formed in 1993, Fine Crowd apparently gained quite a bit of popularity before parting ways in 2000," Tom notes. "This is a nice reminder of the band, which I suspect put on quite the fun performance."
Juliet Youngren pays a return visit to Rambles to review Ceol Anam by Carol Barney and John Sherman. The duo has "infused both soul and heart into this album," Juliet says. "There's very little in the way of pretention or pyrotechnics here -- just simple, honest acoustic music."
Cheryl Turner explores the "forced emigration of settlers to Canada from Scotland and Ireland" as expressed by David Stone & Friends in The Journey. "This release by David Stone is a showcase of talent, chock full of lovely harmonies, stirring lyrics and exemplary instrumentals," Cheryl says. "Stone is to be commended for his songwriting skills."
Sean Simpson is quite excited by Forrest McDonald and What's It Gonna Take? -- his enthusiasm speaks for itself. "This ... THIS is Blues. Not just blues, but capital-B, which stands for Badass, Blues," Sean exclaims. "This is the kind of thing that made me pick up an instrument, passionate and raw and powerful, the kind of thing that grabs you by the throat and doesn't let go. Ever."
Chet Williamson brings in the jazz sound of the Reese Project and Blue Etude. "It's a fine hour of beautifully recorded jazz that offers creative compositions, tight performances and eye-opening surprises," Chet says. "And that's what the best jazz is all about."
Paul de Bruijn's world travels take him to Cape Verde, a recent Putumayo release. "Cape Verde is well worth taking the time to listen to," Paul says. "Most of the songs are wonderful, the only thing that would make it better would be actually knowing what the lyrics are saying."
Paul also steps back in time for an early Kat Eggleston album, First Warm Wind. This CD from 1990 seems to lack the Celtic influences she developed on later albums but, Paul says, "there is a beauty in simplicity and this music finds it, swirling among the lyrics, creating beautiful songs."
Amanda Fisher finds a lot of variety in a new bluegrass release from the Mysterious Redbirds. The album, titled 1992-1998, blends "Celtic styles with African, seasoned with dashes of ragtime and popular music among many others," Amanda says. "This is an outstanding album, highly recommended to anyone interested in indigenous American music, the Celtic influences on it, or just plain wonderful guitar, banjo and fiddle playing. I only wish it were longer."
Laurie Thayer goes a little bit country, a little bit folk with In the Beauty of the Day by Quartette. "Despite Quartette being categorized (by themselves) as a country-folk group, the songs that they have chosen for this CD present an eclectic mix of song styles," Laurie says. "In the Beauty of the Day is much like a short-story anthology by a variety of writers. You can't be sure what you're going to get, but there's sure to be something there that you'll enjoy."
Ellen Rawson peeks in on former 'Til Tuesday singer Aimee Mann and her new folk-rockin' solo release, Bachelor No. 2 (or The Last Remains of the Dodo). "Whether she's thumbing her nose at the music business or merely taking on a persona who's heard far too many lines in her life, her biting cynicism sets her apart from the pop divas cracking the charts and going with the flow," Ellen says.
Robert Buck says music veteran Frank Goodman proves himself to be "a more than adequate guitarist" who "truly shines as both a vocalist and songwriter" on his latest CD, All the Way Down. The album is, Robert says, "a very satisfying musical experience."
Nicky Rossiter gains some understanding of Irish singer-songwriter Christy Moore in his recent autobiography, One Voice: My Life in Song. "This book is a treasure trove and should be sought out by any person interested in folk music, Ireland, the latter half of the 20th century and good writing," Nicky proclaims.
Donna Scanlon was drawn into the story of Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History by Erik Larson. The book tells of the hurricane that devastated the island city of Galveston, Texas, in 1900. "Larson's account reads like a novel, written in vivid and precise language that captures the drama and suspense and even poetry of the event yet avoids sensationalism," Donna says. "The victims and survivors -- many of whose own recollections were source material for the book -- are treated with respect."
Donna begins our fiction section with Jonathan Carroll's The Wooden Sea. "There is not an extraneous scene or word in the novel; everything fits together," Donna says. "Certainly, some of the aspects of the plot would be trite or hokey in the hands of a less skilled author; here, Carroll demonstrates his mastery."
Julie Bowerman has a few opinions about Mark Moorstein's thriller Red Reflections. "Though Moorstein's first published novel starts slowly, it builds into an admirable effort," Julie says.
Beth Derochea resurrects a modern classic, reviewing Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. "This was not an easy book to read, but I found it rewarding," Beth says. "Well-written books that make the reader consider uncomfortable ideas are worth picking up, and The Handmaid's Tale is definitely not a comfortable book. Be prepared to think."
Elizabeth Badurina unlocks the Rambles cineplex for Committed. "I liked that the movie showed that there were two sides to being committed," Elizabeth says, "and when it comes down to it, those two definitions aren't so very far apart."
Tom Knapp slides back in movie time for a Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan comedy classic, the vastly underrated Joe Versus the Volcano. "There's a great mix of subtle and blatant humor here, with many small touches that only a careful eye will see," Tom says. "They alone, as well as the endearing leading characters, excellent dialogue and a smile-inducing storyline, will tempt you to watch this one again."
Tom ends today's update with a review of Batman: Fortunate Son. "The story, which attempts to tap into the pop culture of rock 'n' roll, turns Batman and Robin ... into two-dimensional stereotypes," Tom says. "It sets up all of the expected, tired, cliched situations between staid figures of authority and young rockers with attitudes."
That's it for now, folks! Enjoy the rest of your Easter weekend and hurry back soon!
12 April 2001
The world of Celtic music has been dealt a heavy blow this week. Davy Steele -- the influential Scottish singer and songwriter who has been a dynamic member of bands including Ceolbeg, Clan Alba and, most recently, the Battlefield Band -- died Wednesday, April 11, following a battle with brain cancer.
I have long been a fan of Davy's musical talents, and I had an opportunity to chat with him following a performance with the Battlefield Band a few years ago in Baltimore. He was friendly, charming and passionate about his music. He will be missed.
You can read a message from the Battlefield Band at their website.
7 April 2001
We've got another jam-packed issue of fun and frolic, so let's get to it!
Tom Knapp raved a few weeks ago about the debut album of young fiddler Tania Elizabeth. Well, she doesn't disappoint on her second outing, This Side Up, either. "Tania plays with the sort of freshness, joy and life which makes the fiddle newly exciting each time you hear it," Tom says. "She also continues to push the envelope in fiddle traditions with her innovative, infectious arrangements and blendings of seemingly incompatible styles into something utterly wonderful."
Bill Knapp is next with a taste of Ireland's west coast via Mick Flynn's The Love of the Land. "I was not familiar with any of the numbers before hearing this CD, but after listening to the likes of 'Crystal Morn,' 'Ballyfermot' and 'County Mayo,' I have a better sense of what it means to be Irish," Bill says. "This is not a paean to Celtic heroes; it is a tribute to the pathos of common man and his land."
Nicky Rossiter takes a fresh look at Clancy nephew Robbie O'Connell and his 1993 CD Never Learned to Dance. "O'Connell has a distinctive voice which may not please every ear, but he is an excellent performer," Nicky says. "The real bonus on this 12-track album is that he is the writer of every song and shows a wide range of skills."
Debbie Gayle Rose is next with the Celtic-themed folk album The Sun Upon the Lake is Low by Mae Robertson and Don Jackson, who have compiled a disc full of lullabies and child-oriented songs. "These are the very talented people who came together to record this incredible collection," Debbie says. "My biggest problem has been trying to hold back the gushing praise it engenders."
Tom Knapp is up again, this time with the jazzy folk-rock of Marie-Lynn Hammond's recent re-release, Impromptu. "Hammond sings with a strong voice and a clearly evident sense of fun," Tom says. "At times, the songs are poignant, but usually she's going for the grin factor. She seems the sort who'd be wickedly good entertainment in a small, crowded pub or cafe. Sometimes, she sings in French just to confuse us."
Richard Cochrane continues a jazz theme with Joelle Leandre's Solo Bass. "Leandre's bass playing often impresses with its apparent ability to create a distinct idea within each piece, to make it a thing in itself without using thematic or crudely conceptual materials," Richard says. "Here, however, the pieces are much more jointed, falling into distinct sections as if each one were a miniature suite."
Amanda Fisher has the blues angle covered with W.C. Spencer's Over Time. "One of my favorite parts of reviewing is increasing my appreciation of the rich tapestry of interrelationships between styles of music, like this album does," Amanda says. "Spencer has done a wonderful job of pacing the album, using nice contrasts between styles to advantage."
Amanda also serves up a big bowl of Hot Soup with Hot Soup! "It will have particular appeal to fans of harmony, but should attract a larger audience than that," Amanda says. "The mix of songs and styles is varied and exciting, the original songs excellent, and the covers nicely chosen. The performances are uniformly outstanding."
Ellen Rawson shares some Distillation from Erin McKeown. "Take some early Michelle Shocked and combine with parts of Dar Williams, The Nields, Lucinda Williams, Rickie Lee Jones and even Christine Lavin. Does that blend equal Erin McKeown? Well, no, not really," Ellen says."While here and there she may sound reminiscent of those artists, McKeown is remarkably hard to pigeonhole."
Lynne Remick goes globe-trotting for World Serenade. "Although sometimes ethnic songs of this nature can be too 'spicy' for one's tastes, these appetizers will appeal to a broad range of listeners," Lynne says. "These Latino and Celtic flavours are extremely tasty morsels, and will inspire hunger for a bigger portion of the same."
Crystal Kocher returns to the setting of the film Gladiator for another sample of the music by Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard. Their sophomore release, More Music from the Motion Picture Gladiator, is "a wonderful collection of music by two of the most highly regarded composers of our time," Crystal says. "I can only hope that Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard team up to create more music."
Ziya Reynolds urges us to take a new look at the world with John R. Stilgoe's modern guidebook, Outside Lies Magic: Regaining History and Awareness in Everyday Places. "Far from being some kind of encyclopedia of mundane wonder, Outside Lies Magic is really a guidebook to exploring on your own," Ziya says. "Stilgoe's examples pique your curiousity and make you want to ask why about everything you see, especially the things you see everyday but never noticed before."
Donna Scanlon opens the fiction department with Joan Aiken's The Whispering Mountain. "Of all the books in Joan Aiken's Wolves Chronicles, The Whispering Mountain is my favorite," Donna says.
Donna also attends Outlaw School with Rebecca Ore. "The picture Ore paints is not a pretty one, especially since one can see some of the seeds of Ore's future planted in conditions today," Donna says. "Yet in spite of the grim oppressiveness of the future society, Ore invests her story with a spark of hope."
Laurie Thayer blasts into a space war with Jim Cline's A Small Percentage. "Flaws notwithstanding, A Small Percentage is action-packed and hard to put down," Laurie says. "It is a very entertaining book as it is, but with a good, stiff editing (and about 200 fewer pages), it would be exceptional."
Tom Knapp pays another visit to Kurt Busiek's Astro City for Family Album. "Once again, Busiek has gifted readers with a refreshing new approach to the superhero genre," Tom says. "His stories, no less marvelous and 'unreal' that anything else on the market, has a true-life feel which is rare in his field."
Amy Harlib kicks off a trio of movie reviews today with the music-filled, convicts-on-the-run caper, O Brother, Where Art Thou?. "Steeped in 1930s period atmosphere, detail and the popular cultural zeitgeist of the day," Amy says, the film is "brimming with appropriate old-timey, country, blues and folk music. ... Trying to spot the references to the original Odyssey adds to the fun of watching this enjoyable upbeat romp so filled with arguably its greatest asset, foot-tapping, heart-pounding tunes, that the movie could rightfully be called a musical."
Janine Kauffman is next with The Whole Nine Yards, a funny film about a hitman on the run in the suburbs. "There's only one gripe," Janine says, "the last 15 minutes of the movie seem oddly out of place with the mania that's gone before."
Tom Knapp concludes today's update back in Ireland for The Matchmaker, which takes U.S. political aide Janeane Garofalo to the old country to dig up some roots. "Marcy is even somewhat stereotypical as the American tourist with an attitude towards her 'quaint' hosts, but Garofalo has the charm, personality and presence to carry it off," Tom says. "If you're a fan of gorgeous scenery, you'll see plenty of it here."
1 April 2001
It's April Fool's Day!! I suppose I could get into the spirit of things with a couple of fallacious reviews, or perhaps I could throw some fake circulations statistics or other false claims about this magazine your way. (Business as usual at some sites, eh?) But no, Rambles is going stronger than ever, so we'll dispense with the holiday hijinks and get straight to the reason you're here: your best source for cultural arts reviews on the Internet!!
Jo Morrison pays a welcome return visit to Rambles with a review of Castlebay's Tapestry II: In a Garden Green. "Castlebay, a duo from maritime Maine, brings a real sense of joy to the music they play," Jo says. "The gentle pluck of Julia Lane's harp strings delightfully accompanies Fred Gosbee's many instruments, including whistle and fiddle. The instrumental balance is always superb, and the two clearly think as one, to create such smooth and flowing music."
Cheryl Turner is next with a folk-rockin' Celtic bagpipe band from the Canadian Maritimes, Newfoundland and Ontario, Rawlins Cross and Living River. "The band is successful at fusing contemporary and traditional music styles into a truly unique and enjoyable sound," Cheryl says. "This requires a great deal of talent and innovation, of which the band's members have plenty."
Lynne Remick is delighted with the harping of Alison Vardy on the Celtic/world music release Apasionada. "Vardy's fingers ride the waves of her harp strings -- sometimes strumming, sometimes plucking, like a turbulent ocean," Lynne exclaims!
Donna Scanlon says Chris Foster's "unadorned and straightforward approach" to his music works well on the album Traces. "Foster's voice is slightly rough-hewn and full-bodied," Donna says. "If you like your folk music polished but not glossy, then Traces is for you."
Donna is less happy with Tom Chapin's In the City of Mercy, a recent re-release of one of his early recordings. "I am more familiar with Chapin's more recent work as a writer and performer of quality children's/family songs," Donna says, "and frankly, I think that his talents are best employed in that genre of music."
Chet Williamson enjoys the sound Paul Winter and his Earth Band pulled from New York's Cathedral of St. John the Divine for their latest recording, Journey With the Sun. "There's more introspection than energy here, a slight disappointment, since the sun is the source of all energy," Chet says. "Still, if you like your listening spiced by something different and exotic, Paul Winter always delivers sounds that will make you perk up your ears. Journey With the Sun is a musical voyage well worth making."
Chet also has a rave review for Robert Nighthawk's Live on Maxwell Street 1964, a new release from Bullseye. "There have been a lot of great live blues recordings, but this 1964 date has got to rank among the top contenders for best ever," Chet says. "Give Nighthawk five stars out of four for this one, and envy those lucky, lucky passersby on Maxwell Street who heard this all live thirty-seven years ago."
Laurie Thayer says the latest album from Libana, Night Passage: Invocations for the Journey, is a treat. "This is a wonderful CD for quiet times of meditation on life's passages," Laurie says. "I find myself tossing it in the CD player, even at work, to combat the noise and stress of daily living, to remind myself that there is more to life than the shrilling telephone, demanding customers and unsympathetic managers."
Richard Cochrane provides our jazz fix with Overture Facile by Chamaeleo Vulgaris. "As often happens with improv albums in which more than one person uses electronics, the results are extremely varied and can be very abrasive," Richard says. "That said, they are uniformly good. ... This kind of music smells like the future."
Debbie Gayle Rose says the protest songs on A Piece of the Wall by Rebel Voices are a refreshing note. "Their work has wit and witticisms that are wry and sometimes scathing, but always dead on the mark," Debbie says. "A Piece of the Wall offers the best of all worlds: strong messages, beautiful voices and entertainment for the ear and mind."
Tom Knapp starts today's book reviews with a tale from ancient Ireland: The Feast from Randy Lee Eickhoff's ongoing Ulster cycle of stories. "Sometimes, a dinner party is doomed to disaster from the onset," Tom says of the enjoyable saga of competition among Cuchulainn and other Ulster heroes. "This one, at Bricriu's new and opulent hall, never had a chance."
Sticking with an Irish theme, we have Sheree Morrow's review of Malachy McCourt's second autobiography, Singing My Him Song. "Choosing to read Malachy McCourt's second memoir felt something like slowing down to view a nasty car crash -- I pretty much knew what to expect, but got a surprise just the same," Sheree says. "To say he redeemed himself is a bit of an understatement."
Donna Scanlon is next with Jeffrey E. Barlough's novel Dark Sleeper. "The language is consistently vivid, replete with repetitive descriptions which serve to reinforce the narrative structure," Donna says. "The characters are marvelous, drawn at first in broad strokes with fine details carefully added."
Cheryl Turner reports that Denise Tiller's Calculated Risk passes the test of a good mystery. "One of the criteria I use to evaluate a good mystery novel is how many times I put it down before I finish it," Cheryl says. "Calculated Risk was certainly successful in this department -- the few times reluctantly let the book out of my hands were to take in nourishment and go to work."
Tom Knapp enjoyed The Secret Society of Super-Heroes, one of the recent publications from DC's Elseworlds line in which superheroes are real but no one knows they exist. It's "a treat to read," Tom says. "The heroes, while different from the norm, seem very real for this 'what if?' scenario."
Janine Kauffman provides another foreign film review this week, this timing choosing The Dinner Game (Le Diner de cons) from French director Francis Veber. "The Dinner Game feels more like a play, with the rapid dialogue and pacing suited to the stage," Janine says.
The timing is perfect to post a review of Julia Roberts' Oscar-winning movie Erin Brockovich -- a film Tom Knapp admits he hadn't planned to see. The true story of Brockovich's crusade against a big industry's poisoning of a small town's water supply is, he says, "not only interesting, it's evocative, emotional and honestly heart-warming."
25 March 2001
Spring has been here for a few days now, and it's still bloody cold in south-central Pennsylvania. At least we have a big pile of new reviews to keep us warm!
Ralph DiGennaro kicks off today with an interview with renowned folksinger Dar Williams, who talks about the rockier in her music. "I have a muse and she gets pissed off when I pigeonhole myself," Dar explains. "She says, 'Don't be a slave to a genre.'"
Julie Bowerman launches our music reviews with Raise Your Head, a retrospective of the Poozies. "This delightful CD benefits from the strength and diversity of the women's voices," Julie says. "Of the 14 selections on Raise Your Head, there isn't a bad choice."
Tom Knapp continues the Celtic theme with a pair of new reviews, beginning with Patsy Watchorn's The Craic & Porter Too. "Don't go looking for major innovations in music here; this album is more about retaining a sense of tradition than it is about breaking new ground," Tom says. "Patsy performs firmly in the style of the Clancy Brothers, the Dubliners and the like, always retaining a strong flow of freshness and a crisp and enjoyable presentation. His voice is about as perfect as you can get for these songs."
We already have a section of Rambles devoted to the unique music of the Canadian Maritimes. Now, Tom helps us launch a new section, also a subset of Celtic traditions, spotlighting the interplay between the Celtic and French cultures of Europe and Canada. Tom reviews Rythm 'n Blou from the Acadian band Blou. "Blou is a diverse, talented band who are shouting out at the world to draw attention to Acadia," Tom says. "If the world knows what's good for it, it'll take notice -- this music is too good to miss."
Sean Simpson explores the Streets of Fall River with Jed Marum, who focuses his music on the Scottish- and Irish-American experience. "On the whole, the CD is a wonderful listen, the kind that you can get lost in, and find yourself seeing the Boston of a hundred years ago, or the battlefields of the Civil War, or even Montreal or New Orleans of today," Sean says.
Next, Lynne Remick dabbles in Celtic/new age with The Shores of Lillisand by Steve Schuch & The Night Heron Consort. The music, Lynne says, defines "a wonderful place" to visit.
Ken Fasimpaur takes us to jazz with Points of View from Stevens, Siegel & Ferguson. "Points of View presents a great deal of music to absorb, but it's an enjoyable and worthwhile effort, with new touches revealed upon each new listening," Ken says. "The varied compositions here, as expertly supported and expanded on by three considerable talents, gel to produce impressive results."
Laurie Thayer shifts into American folk with Shandy Lawson and Devils & Crows. Although the songs are well-crafted, Laurie says, this unfortunately "is not a fun CD, nor one for people prone to deep depressions. Even eternal optimists could get dragged down by these songs."
Chet Williamson serves up a pair of new Copper Creek releases: Good Songs for Hard Times by Ginny Hawker and Tracy Schwarz, and When the Cactus is in Bloom by Bob Bovee and Gail Heil. "There's a big difference between primitive and amateurish. Hawker and Schwarz show what it is, but Bovee and Heil don't," Chet says. "The difference between these two albums is the difference between the performers who are on the stage of the festival, and those who happily pick and sing in the parking lot."
Amanda Fisher finds some rockin' country and bluegrass in Bolsa de Agua by the Gourds. "American fusion is the only way to describe the Gourds' style," Amanda says. "Any attempt to pin it down more tightly leaves out more than it includes."
Cheryl Turner rounds out the music section with Melinda Gidaly's Quiet Loathing Girl. "Melinda Gidaly is an artist with a good, strong voice and a talent for poetry," Cheryl says. "All of the necessary pieces are there -- lyrics, melodies, some instrumentation -- but what she lacks in this album is the ability to put the pieces together into something which will keep the listener's attention."
Tom Knapp toured Ireland with the aid of Conan Kennedy's Ancient Ireland: The User's Guide, which he found in a Dublin bookstore. "It's not a comprehensive manual to the countryside, but it's a good overview, providing enough information to fill several Irish excursions and whet your appetite to learn more," Tom says.
Amy Harlib shares Lynn Marie Cuny's love for animals via Cuny's book Through Animal's Eyes: True Stories From a Wildlife Sanctuary. "Cuny's recollections encompass an astonishing range of species and run the gamut of emotions from humorous to tragic with outcomes that can be inevitable or surprising," Amy says. "Through Animal's Eyes conveys amply and clearly Cuny's love for her charges, a passion that not only entertains the reader with some amazing stories, but that also serves to remind us that human compassion can and should turn outward to embrace the animal world."
Donna Scanlon takes a journey with Jonathan Carroll to The Land of Laughs, recently reprinted by Tor. It is, Donna says, "a remarkable first novel, packed with originality and imagination and overall, more than competently executed and a solid foundation for the rest of his literature to use as a base."
Donna visits many worlds with Connie Willis in her short-story collection Fire Watch. "Although Connie Willis is hailed as one of science fiction's finest writers, her eye for detail and skill at spinning convoluted plots populated with fresh and original characters marks her as a remarkable writer in any genre," Donna says. Read the review to find out why.
Adam Lipkin revisits the world of Kage Baker with The Graveyard Game. "Baker's writing style has come a long way over the course of four novels," Adam says. "She has moved from writing fun romps to writing some of the best character-driven science-fiction out there."
A newcomer to our staff today is C. Nathan Coyle, who adds to the Marvel portion of our graphic novel section with Captain Britain. "For the most part, the stories rate as adequate as the art," Nathan says. "Some are rushed and do not achieve their potential. Other tales are not very original and make for bland reading."
Elizabeth Badurina concludes the literary portion of today's update with the premiere edition of the zine Belle Papier. Find out why it has become "something of a collector's zine."
Amy Harlib opens our film section with the recent feature Monkeybone. "Ribald, outrageous, satirical, complex, incredibly imaginative, (with dazzling sets, costumes, make-up and SPFX in the Downtown sequences) ... Monkeybone borders on offensive with its sexual innuendoes and some bathroom humor, and it can be complicated," Amy says. "But the movie, by letting the fascinating intricacies of its plot and imagery carry one along, amply rewards the viewer willing to follow Henry Selick's wild flights of fantasy wherever they go."
Tom Knapp goes back to Prohibition-era Chicago for The Untouchables, a movie which pits honest cops against powerful criminals. "Director Brian De Palma's flair for storytelling really stands out in this film, with scattered bits of humor relieving scene after scene of white-knuckled tension," Tom says. " is not a historically accurate depiction of the events surrounding Ness and Capone. But it's thrilling drama which succeeds in presenting the flavor of the time, when lives were bought and sold in the cause of an unpopular law."
That's it for today ... see you next time!
21 March 2001
And we keep on ramblin'! Still recovering from a hectic St. Paddy's Day weekend, and yet we feel a need to share a few more reviews with you. Onward!
We're all still feeling a bit Irish, and Tom Knapp rekindles his fond memories of Dublin with Gogarty's Music, a collection of tracks from various performers at the popular Temple Bar pub. "It's a solid album by a varied crew of musicians," Tom says. "The biggest flaw of this album is the recording studio ... this album should have been recorded on the second floor of Gogarty's, with pints all around and the sounds of the happy crowd right there with the music."
Next, Patrick Derksen pays heed to the Unplugged side of popular Irish folk-poppers, the Corrs. "This album is, I think, the band's masterpiece," Patrick says. "Everything that is great in their music -- vocals, musicianship, catchy rhythms -- is present here, with the bonus of an intimate setting of a live performance."
Charlie Gebetsberger continues in a Celtic theme with Air Races by Ian McKinnon & Gayle H. Martin. "McKinnon, who plays pipes, low D tin whistle and harmonica, performs duets with Martin, who plays pipe organ and piano," Charlie explains. "Both show off a dynamic style of instrumentation that interacts well with each other."
Lynne Remick wasn't so impressed with Eric Bogle's Endangered Species. "Unfortunately, although I can appreciate Bogle and his band's accomplished instrument playing, I think I'm from a different planet than Bogle," Lynne says. "If it were my choice, I'd opt for selective extinction."
Rachel Jagt says "something did not sit right with me" while listening to Kathy Fleischmann's Ten Doors Down. "It's a confusing and not entirely logical mix of songs -- many of which are too pushy, too strained," Rachel says.
Dave Townsend is much happier with the Gumboots and their Search For a Passage. The album, Dave says, 'is a doubly good experience: hearing some good traditional-sounding folk music and getting a history lesson at the same time."
We have two fiction reviews for you today, beginning with Van Reid's Daniel Plainway, or The Holiday Haunting of the Moosepath League. "As in Reid's previous novels, all the convoluted story lines converge and weave together neatly," says reviewer Donna Scanlon. "The plot is fast-paced, and Reid outdoes himself with his characters."
Amanda isn't as impressed with Mystery of the Golden Table by Wayne Williams. "The plot is barely existent and has little point, which does not help one overlook the mediocre writing skills of the author," Amanda says.
Janine Kauffman opens our midweek film section with All About My Mother (Todo sobre mi madre), which won an Oscar for foreign-language films. "Emotionally draining and uplifting at the same time, a film that treats frequent outcasts with dignity, All About My Mother proves, with bittersweet humor, that it's possible to treat death, sexuality and courage with less moralizing and sensationalism and more matter-of-fact intelligence," Janine says.
Tom Knapp concludes another day with an addition to our James Bond collection, in this case the not-so-triumphant return of Sean Connery in the ill-conceived Never Say Never Again. "OK, so it doesn't stand tall among the finest of Connery's too-brief Bond career, but Never Say Never Again wasn't made for Bond fans so much as it was made for Connery-as-Bond fans," Tom says. "For them, it's a treat just to see him back in the role."
17 March 2001
On March 17, the whole world is Irish! At least, everyone wishes they were!! Here at Rambles, we've always had a fondness for the Celts -- just check out our massive Celtic music section, as well as the large number of Irish books and movies we've reviewed. But in case there's any confusion, we are not your basic green beer-variety reveler, nor will you find us crooning "Danny Boy" while wearing plastic leprechaun hats. The editor's band, Fire in the Glen, is booked solid with five shows in three days, so we'll keep this update short. (Never fear, we'll make up for it in a few days with even more!)
Tom Knapp begins our St. Paddy's Day festivities with an Irish-American band from Minneapolis called the Tim Malloys. The music on their second album, Drunkards, Bastards & Blackguards, "is good and infectiously entertaining," Tom says. "The band brings a heady mix of Irish fun and Irish anger to the recording, and I suspect they'd be a treat to see perform in a packed and rowdy pub."
Tom continues the flow with a startlingly exciting new discovery: Something by Tania Elizabeth, a young fiddler from Australia, now living in British Columbia. "Her attacks are sharp, her intonation is crisp, her bowing at times crunchy, at times sweet," Tom says. "She is lively, passionate, tireless. She's diverse in her style choices. She is a fresh sound in a market flooded with every day with new fiddlers."
Timothy Keene makes an all-too-rare visit to our pages with his review of Simon Mayor's directly titled CD, New Celtic Mandolin. "It's the kind of music that you'd expect to find at a good pub -- it creates the perfect atmosphere, and it's not so discordant as to break into your train of thought," Tim says. "Mayor has a great ear for combining various instruments together to create moods through his music."
Ken Fasimpaur switches our focus to jazz for the Reese Project, featuring the Susquehannah Ensemble, and Viewpoints. Although the variety of sounds "never seem to gel into a truly coherent whole," Ken says, "the talent of the Reese Project and the Susquehannah Ensemble is certainly clear. If you enjoy lighter jazz, string quintets and a variety of added touches of style and instrumentation, Viewpoints may be just the musical cornucopia for you."
Laurie Thayer is next with the folk duo Hollyfield & Spruill and their CD Blue and Green. It is, Laurie says, "a mostly quiet, pleasant CD with occasional surprises. The duo's voices, guitars and alto flute are very enjoyable, with guest musicians adding just the right touch of spice to the mix."
In a more country vein, Keith Whitley's Sad Songs & Waltzes found favor with Amanda Fisher. Amanda says the CD "gripped me from its first chords. This is country music as it ought to be, full of life's details and fusing folk (American and Celtic), blues and bluegrass into a unique and varied mix."
Rachel Jagt was lulled by Lydia McCauley's latest CD, Entrances. It is, Rachel says, an excellent recording for people who "enjoy rooms illuminated by one hundred candles and ethereal poetry of a time long past."
Paul de Bruijn is transported to Cuba by Luis Conte's Cuban Dreams. "I would not want to picture this music without the drums and percussion," Paul says. "It would somehow seem wrong."
Sean Simpson was impressed by Rachel Bissex and Don't Look Down, a folk-rockin' CD which is "immensely refreshing in a day and age of overproduced, mass-manufactured crap filling the airwaves."
Charlie Gebetsberger rolls up with the final music review for the weekend: Walkie Talkie's self-produced Twilite at Spanish Castle. The album, Charlie says, "delivers eleven tracks of melody and storytelling that take hold of you and nicely rock you with a country-folk feel. ... With guitar, harmonies, great lyrical work and fine delivery, Walkie Talkie delivers an album that spins nicely to the ear and touches you with melody and song."
Donna Scanlon opens our fiction department with the next installment in Joan Aiken's Wolves Chronicles, Nightbirds on Nantucket. It, as well as earlier books in the series, "are timeless modern classics, as fresh and appealing as they were when first published nearly forty years ago," Donna says.
Donna also reviewed Sing the Four Quarters by Tanya Huff. "Too often, high fantasies (and their authors) take themselves way too seriously and wallow in weighty dialogue and ponderous description," Donna says. "Huff's take seems to be that human beings have human responses which are not rarified by virtue of appearing in a high fantasy novel."
Amanda Fisher was fascinated by An Uncertain Currency, a murder mystery by Clyde Lynwood Sawyer Jr. and Frances Witlin. "I recommend it to people who love evocative prose, and who are looking for something different to read," Amanda says. "This is both different and delightful."
Tom Knapp was disappointed by the DC/Dark Horse collaboration, JLA vs. Predator. Despite DC's finest heroes and a grand group of villains, the book is, Tom says, "pretty dull stuff."
Amy Harlib explores the visual topic of Cats on Quilts with author Sandi Fox. "By combining charming written passages with vibrant images, this delightful publishing effort can't fail to please," Amy says.
Beth Derochea, an acknowledged biblioholic, says she was intrigued by the premise of Anne Fadiman's Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader. "I was not disappointed at all!" Beth says. "Anne Fadiman's essays are clear, humorous and enjoyable, ringing true as I recognized my own foibles about reading."
Janine Kauffman has an unusual offering for our film buffs today: Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai. "It helps to know this is a movie by Jim Jarmusch, a man gifted at turning small moments into big impact. It helps to know there are flashes of other brilliant films here, from Jarmusch's own Dead Man to High Noon. And it helps to know Ghost Dog is played by Forest Whitaker, who can play a resolute enigma and still make you care about the character."
Tom Knapp ends today's festivities with a pair of musical movie masterpieces: 1984's Amadeus and 1994's Immortal Beloved. Both focus on great composers, Mozart and Beethoven, and both are, in their own ways, tragedies. Read Tom's comparison of the two.
Now go out, order a pint of Guinness in the first pub you find without cardboard shamrocks on the wall, and raise a toast to the Irish!
10 March 2001
OK, the "massive" snowstorm turned out to be a bit of a bust, at least in this part of the world. So much for reliable weather prognostication! Well, at least you can always count on Rambles, eh?
Meanwhile ... what's this? Can it be? Yes, it's true! There's a new Knapp in town! Today's edition begins with the Rambles debut of Bill Knapp, who will, when pressed, confess to a certain familial relationship to Rambles editor Tom Knapp. But we won't hold that against him!
Bill (not Tom) Knapp gets things started with a new favorite: Highland Farewell by Steve McDonald. While not a traditional album, Bill says, it "evokes a sense of the heritage of Scotland that few recordings could ever hope to do."
Sheree Morrow entertains tollbooth operators with the music of Brother, and now she wants to share This Way Up with you, too. "Call it native. Call it tribal. Call it wild," Sheree says. "No matter what label you may want to put on it, the sound is unlike any other."
Amanda Fisher goes hunting Wales, and finds what she's looking for in the Welsh-language compilation disc In the Language of Heaven (Yn Iaeth y Nefoedd). "This album would be a welcome addition to the libraries of traditional Celtic music fans, particularly those interested in supplementing the more easily found Irish and Scottish music with a different and equally Celtic music," Amanda says. "It's a wonderful introduction to this rich cultural tradition."
Paul de Bruijn hits the big 40 (reviews, not years) with the self-titled CD from the Poachers. The album is short, Paul notes, but "if you are looking for good solid folk music, the Poachers won't let you down."
Paul also enjoys the smoky jazz of Adrianne in For Adeline. "While it might seem that For Adeline would seem dark, it does not," Paul says. "There is too much beauty in the music and too much truth in the lyrics."
Tom Knapp (yes, he does still work here!) is next with a touch of Delerium and a heavy dose of Karma. "This album defies categorization," Tom says. "But, ultimately, labels don't matter. Buy this one and enjoy the 11 tracks it provides purely for the sensual sound experience it creates."
Dave Townsend is one of The Lucky Few with Equation. "Equation have found themselves at the forefront of a recent folk music revival in Britain," Dave says. "When you combine excellent songwriting and musicianship, the result is a CD that you can listen to without wanting to skip any tracks."
Chris Simmons has a tasty slice of bluegrass for you in Don Rigsby's Empty Old Mailbox. Although there are a few missteps along the way, Chris says the CD is "a solid effort by the ubiquitous Mr. Rigsby. Here's hoping he continues his workaholic ways."
Chet Williamson has high praise for Sonny Landreth's Levee Town. "If this isn't the best overall blues album of the year, it's damn well the best white blues album of the year," Chet says. "Sonny Landreth has always been a superior bluesman with a devil-granted guitar style and a singing voice dripping with Louisiana moss, and this outing is his most effective yet."
Turning to countryish folk, Donna Scanlon says Charlie Sohmer's The Kiss Before the Calm "contains a dozen songs performed by Sohmer with a backup complement that just doesn't quit. The arrangements are tight and crisp and the quality is consistently high throughout."
Debbie Gayle Rose was surprised by the strength she heard in Linda Allen's Lay It Down: Images of the Sacred. "I was not prepared for the CD to be as emotionally exciting and moving as I found it to be," Debbie says. "I am eager for more."
Laurie Thayer seeks advice on writing from a writer in Stephen King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. "It is good," Laurie says. "Not that I was surprised that it's good, but I was surprised at how entertaining it is. I expected a somewhat dry look at how King believes one should write. What I got was an invitation to take a close look at King's life as it relates to his writing as well as a nuts-and-bolts dissertation on how to write."
Tom Knapp explores the nature of man in DC Comics' Mann and Superman, a tale of identity and real heroism. Unfortunately, Tom finds both the story and art by Michael T. Gilbert to be lacking, and the potential of the plot is misplaced.
Tom is also less than thrilled with Hubert J. Davis' American Witch Stories. While the book captures the flavor of Appalachian folklore, "it never really evokes any sense of wonder or fear in a subject usually steeped in magic and mystery," Tom says. "This book holds your interest for a few stories and then rapidly falls into dull repetition."
Amy Harlib admires both the story and the art in Nick Bantock's latest, The Museum at Purgatory: A Wondrous Strange Tale. "Here is a volume that anyone who appreciates genuine artistic vision enhanced by sly wit and subtle humor will treasure," Amy says, "wanting to gaze at the lavishly colorful pictorial delights therein over and over again."
Amy is also happy to see Australian author Sophie Masson getting some exposure in U.S. and U.K. publishing markets. A recent release from Masson is the medieval fantasy The Green Prince. "The Green Prince, using Welsh and Celtic folklore pertaining to the denizens of streams, rivers and the sea as its source of inspiration, is set in medieval England," Amy says. "Masson's descriptions of the undersea realms and their inhabitants are delightfully imaginative, atmospheric, and full of wonder and inventiveness."
Julie Bowerman delights in the watery imagery found in Alice Hoffman's The River King, but says the plot is less satisfying. The author, Julie says, "creates the experience of drowning with such alluring words that struggling to the surface barely seems an option."
Donna Scanlon isn't sure how successful writer Francesca Lia Block makes the transition from young-adult to adult-erotica with her short-story collection Nymph. "The sexual descriptions in the stories are mostly a stark intrusion into an intriguing exploration into relationships," Donna says. "The blunt and often unoriginal language comes across as a catalogue of genitalia grafted badly into Block's otherwise lyrical prose."
Ziya Reynolds starts our film duology with Dancer in the Dark, which Ziya describes as "a difficult film. If it had been made by another artist it would still be a difficult film, but director Lars von Trier seems to go out of his way to raise the heartbreak inherent in the plot to an almost incomprehensible level."
Last in our lineup for today is the Irish film The Run of the Country, set along the troubled border between Northern and the Republic of Ireland. Tom Knapp says the movie is emotionally moving and comedic, but it never settles on a firm identity for itself. "It includes both lighthearted and tragic sides to young romance," Tom says. "But, at its deepest core, The Run of the Country is about a relationship between a father and son."
6 March 2001
I did say it's March, right? We're being hit with one of the biggest snowstorms of the year. Go figure! Meanwhile, I wanted to note that Rambles has been receiving some flattering accolades from some of the movers and shakers of the music and publishing industries as well as from Internet designers. You can read what they have to say on our kudos page. Thanks, folks!
4 March 2001
It's March, which means the Spring Solstice and St. Patrick's Day are right around the corner! While you're waiting for those momentous days to arrive, why not read a few of these reviews from the Internet's finest team of cultural arts writers?
Tom Knapp gets things rolling with Irish fiddler Mary Custy, who teams up with guitarist Stephen Flaherty for After 10:30. "Custy has a deft touch, an effortless style which never falters or flops," Tom says. "Flaherty is equally skillful, avoiding the strum-heavy rhythm which dominate the work of many Irish guitarists; he's not just banging out chords, he's providing detailed counter-melodies and harmonies which stand on an equal footing with Custy's fiddle."
Wayne Morrison, a newcomer to the Rambles staff, bagpiper extraordinaire and spouse to harper and long-time Rambles reviewer Jo Morrison, is next with Forest by the harp duo Knodel & Valencia. "Listening to this recording is an experience, not just a collection of disparate tunes and songs," Wayne says. "You can't stop listening."
Lynne Remick has a pair of music reviews for us today, beginning with Angus Macleod's CD The Silent Ones: A Legacy of the Highland Clearances. "Angus Macleod captures the essence of the Highland Clearances and relays it through a chronicle of his family's history," Lynne says. "Sometimes sad, sometimes full of promise, The Silent One brings to light both a tragic and inspiring tale through an engaging medium."
Next, Lynne explores the Native American flute with Golana in Feather on the Wind. "Even if this isn't your usual music, the whispers of Golana's flute will speak volumes to you," Lynne says.
Donna Scanlon dances along with the Klezmer Conservatory Band with Dance Me to the End of Love. "The musicianship is excellent, featuring tight arrangements and clean well-blended performances that allow each band member to shine," Donna says. "Best of all, it sounds as if they're having a blast playing together."
Paul de Bruijn finds something lacking in Tina Lear's jazzy The Road Home. "The music is excellent and the lyrics are rich," Paul says. "Even so, more often than not, the songs simply do not evoke much of a reaction in me."
Tom Knapp is back with the latest Eric Schwartz recording -- a folk album which is not for everyone, as Schwartz suggests with his title: Pleading the First: Songs My Mother Hates. "Schwartz takes giddy delight in puncturing every sacred cow there is, offending every race, gender and special interest he can poke his lyrics at," Tom says. "He does it quite on purpose, and his live audience digs every word."
Laurie Thayer has a mixed reaction to the tracks on We Are Each Other's Angels, a group effort of spiritual music which raises funds for Habitat for Humanity. "These pieces are for the most part upbeat, with a jazzy sort of feel to them," Laurie says. "However, most of them are overtly Christian, as though no other tradition can be spiritual."
Cheryl Turner enjoys Lisa Richards' CD Not Quite So Low more, citing "a good amount of depth and variety" by the native Australian singer-songwriter. "Richards has a rich, clear voice and knows how to use it, singing with power and conviction," Cheryl says.
Turning to our literature section, we begin with something a little unusual: Amy Harlib's review of Little Lit: Folklore & Fairy Tale Funnies, a graphic arts collection edited by Art Speigelman and Francoise Mouly. "Each offering is rendered in a distinctive, visually fascinating style," Amy says. "This colorful, eye-catching, dazzling imagination-stimulating collection deserves a place in every household to serve as a continually satisfying treat for readers of all ages -- a treasure to be savored over and over again!"
Amy also presents her views on Passages: Photographs in Africa by Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher. "The distillation of three decades of research and travel, these photographs are dramatic, sometimes intimate, always gorgeously composed images of authentic African rituals that take place all over the entire continent," Amy says. "Beckwith and Fisher's work is nothing short of heroic -- to see it in Passages is a rite of passage to enlightenment about the glories of African cultures."
We've already posted reviews of Frank McCourt's well-known memoirs, Angela's Ashes and 'Tis. Now it's his brother's turn, as Sheree Morrow reviews Malachy McCourt's first autobiographical (and often unflattering) work, A Monk Swimming. "While I laughed and flushed at the young, wild, carefree Malachy's antics," Sheree says, "my heart broke for the older, sadder Malachy who spent his best years trying to prove his worth to a wife who no longer loved him and two children who barely knew him."
Donna Scanlon goes to Galveston with writer Sean Stewart. The novel, Donna says, "is a complex, ambitious exploration of the nature of magic and reality set in his alternate, magic-enhanced America. ... The rich, intricate clean prose holds you, making you keenly aware of all you may be taking for granted in your 'real' world."
Next, Amanda Fisher takes a spin with Marissa Carter's The Turning. The story begins "in a 'hard' SF style but abruptly changes to a religious, new-age theme midbook," Amanda says. "I wish Carter had stayed with her initial setup throughout the book."
Wil Owen is happier with the path taken by Peter Carpenter Schneider to his Shining City, which begins with a devastating earthquake in Tokyo. "When the shaking is over and the dust begins to settle, you might just think you experienced this terrible calamity yourself," Wil says. Japan's efforts to rebuild are the subject in this fascinating novel of political and financial turmoil, and Schneider "does an excellent job of making the subtle nuances of the various societies involved seem all too real."
We begin our movie section today with something a little different: Tom Knapp's review of the semi-documentary Pirate Tales. "There are plenty of movies on the market which bring swashbuckling action to the big screen, and there are countless books which spell out the facts of those turbulent times," Tom says. "Pirate Tales is a fun and fascinating blend, making the learning experience an entertaining one as well."
Janine Kauffman rounds out the section and ends our update for today with Dead Pet. "It's the kind of film where friends and family were recruited to play clowns and cousins, where uneven acting sometimes threatens to sink the film altogether," Janine says. "Dead Pet sorely needed some script editing."
27 February 2001
We're back with a special midweek update, just to keep on top of all the review materials we receive!
For our first review today, Tom Knapp revisits Cape Bretoners Archie and Roddy in Howie MacDonald's millenial CD, WhY2Keilidh. "This CD will certainly leave some people scratching their heads, and I wouldn't recommend it as anyone's first introduction to Cape Breton music," Tom says. "However, if you're ready for something completely different, prepare to spend an interesting night in the company of Cape Breton's resident kook."
Cheryl Turner is next with flautist Chris Norman's Portraits. "This album succeeds in displaying Norman's versatility -- he is able to play in many different styles, and with an astounding array of instruments," Cheryl says. "The common denominator is the flute, but Norman plays in so many different styles that the album is a wonderful sampler for someone wishing to be introduced to a variety of types of traditional music."
Sean Simpson serves up some blues with W.C. Spencer's Bluescat. "While Bluescat isn't the best blues disc I've heard in my life ... it's solid, honest, and it rocks," Sean says. "It's got everything you expect from an at least halfway decent blues album, and it's got conversation potential as well."
Ralph DiGennaro wraps up today's musical selections with Chris Smither's Live As I'll Ever Be. "Rarely has a live album captured so eloquently the artist at the peak of performance," Ralph says.
Donna Scanlon turns to fiction with Donna Jo Napoli's reinterpretation of the well-known "Beauty and the Beast" tale in Beast. "Napoli draws on a less well-known version of the tale as a departure point for her novel, a poem by Charles Lamb identifying the unfortunate beast as Prince Orasmyn of Persia. The narrative ... is stately and thoughtful, broken by the sharp contrast of episodes where the beast's nature overcomes princely inclinations."
Laurie Thayer tackles a fantasy classic in Terry Brooks' The Sword of Shannara. "It has been said that The Sword of Shannara is just a cheap rip-off of Grandpa Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings," Laurie notes. "However, one might just as well say that The Lord of the Rings is just a cheap rip-off of the northern mythologies from which Tolkien garnered the seeds of his great saga. Both are tales that take great mythological themes and transplant them into a fantasy setting."
Amy Harlib explores the life of actress/model Veronica Webb in her autobiography and essay collection, Veronica Webb Sight: Adventures in the Big City. "Adventures in the Big City is both entertaining and thought-provoking," Amy says, "the testimony of an intelligent, perceptive woman who is far more than a pretty face and who has a lot of worthwhile things to say about herself as part of popular culture and a wider world."
Elizabeth Badurina reviews the zine While a Lucid Ease, which exposes "amazingly creative soul laid bare on the page, through art and words."
Tom Knapp ends the literary portion of today's special update by sharing a talk with Cornel West, a professor of religion and director of the Afro-American studies department at Princeton University. Common folk have the same depth and complexity in their lives as the rich and powerful," West said. "One cannot hammer out a democracy without a deep respect for everyone's unusualness."
Finally today, Tom posts No. 5 in his series of Star Trek reviews. "Let's face it, the story is dumb," Tom says of The Final Frontier. "Worse yet, these beloved characters are given poor roles to play."
23 February 2001
It's Great Guinness Toast night, and that seems like a good reason to get this week's edition up a little early. Guinness will attempt once again to set a world's record (Whose name do you think that is on the Book of World Records, anyway?) with a massive global toast in pubs all around the world. The toast is at 11 p.m. EST, so all you folks in other parts of the world calculate the time accordingly and hie thee to a pub in time to join the moment!
Tom Knapp, after a lengthy hiatus caused by corrective surgery on his hands, will finally return to the stage tonight, where he hopes to be playing his fiddle and bodhran with something of his former energy. (So if you happen to be near Marietta, Pa., do stop in at McCleary's Pub for some grand music and, of course, a pint of Guinness!) And so, with that, he's ready to begin this edition of Rambles with a great pair Celtic recordings.
Tom was somewhat stunned by Coal Fire in the Winter by Cape Breton's coal-miner choir Men of the Deeps. "You might expect mostly boisterous, lively songs to hold off the darkness below ground, but these songs are mostly slow, soulful, full of romance, light and life," Tom says. "There's often a sense of the tragic in the songs, the knowledge that these men and their sons are likely trapped by circumstances in the miner's life, but there's an amazing amount of hope and joy here, too."
Celtic jazz isn't a common genre, but Tom found some to laud in Urban Celtic's self-titled debut. "Don't let the name scare you," Tom says. "Urban Celtic has put out a sweet, relaxing CD filled with lovely vocals and jazz-inflected Celtic traditionals."
Charlie Gebetsberger is happy with Scottish singer Christina Harrison's CD Lassie wi' the Lint-white Locks. "With fiddle, pipes, guitar and voice," Charlie says, "Harrison and her crew deliver twelve tracks of good range and melodic tone to entreat the listener to make a trip to the hills of bonnie Scotland."
Nicky Rossiter is a new addition to the Rambles crew, making his debut with a review of Wings by the English trio Artisan. "Discovering Wings has spurred me on to looking for other albums by this exceptional a capella group," Nicky says.
Lynne Remick explores the world of Jewish music with Putumayo's new compilation disc, A Jewish Odyssey: A Celebration of Music Around the World. As the Jewish people hail from extremely diverse cultures," Lynne says, "many flavours of the world can be enjoyed at once in this stimulating musical journey."
Laurie Thayer hears the comfort of home in Mae Robertson and Eric Garrison's Sweet Dreams of Home, a folk CD supporting SOS Children's Villages-USA. "Robertson's voice is gentle and soothing, well-suited to lullabies," Laurie says. "Sweet Dreams of Home is a gentle CD, for quiet times and relaxation."
Audrey Clark says Merrie Amsterburg is "armed with an eclectic array of instruments, mystical lyrics and a hauntingly sweet voice" on her new CD, Little Steps. "This is one artist you'll definitely want to catch."
Robert Buck gets bluesy with Chris Duarte's Love Is Greater Than Me. "There is not a bad track among the eleven" on this CD, Robert says. The album demonstrates "not only that Chris has overcome his devils with love, but also shows why he is considered a guitarist's guitarist."
Robert wraps up today's CD reviews with singer-songwriter Jeff Krebs and Keep an Eye Out. "Krebs has a really smooth voice that will take the listener through some dark places," Robert says, "but those dark places are almost invariably tinged with an element of hope."
Tom Knapp also has a review of the touring show Of Ebony Embers, which celebrates the music and poetry of the Harlem Renaissance. "For 90 minutes, actor Akin Babatunde lived and breathed for some of the greatest names of that era, and it was hard not to be scorched by his fiery passion for their work," Tom says. "The music is at times slow, sweet and gorgeous, at others fast, percussive, even harsh."
Donna Scanlon opens the Rambles library with a haunted offering -- Patrick M. Mendoza's Between Midnight and Morning. "The stories are well told and brief, just right for reading around a campfire," Donna says.
Next, Donna returns with Joan Aiken to her Wolves Chronicles with Black Hearts in Battersea. "Aiken invests the novel with a tongue-in-cheek twinkle," Donna says. "Black Hearts in Battersea is sure to whet the reader's appetite for more -- and there is plenty more adventure ahead."
Donna's third review today is for James P. Blaylock's The Rainy Season. "The plot develops quietly, sneaking up on the reader as it develops and the pieces start to fall into place," Donna says. "The horror in the story lies not in supernatural violence, but rather in the motives that reside in the human heart, and what happens when an obsession feeds those motives."
Elizabeth Badurina tackles one of her favorite subjects -- bad girls on the road -- in Erika Lopez's visual novel Flaming Iguanas. "Not only is this book written in a girlfriend, hilarious style, it's designed with crazy fonts and original clipart that makes it a visual treat as well as a literary one," Elizabeth says. "She takes the story of one woman and turns it into a wise-cracking, rebel road trip tale that made me want to hop out of my chair and buy a bike."
Elizabeth finds two more favorite topics -- women's issues and business -- in The SEED Handbook: The Feminine Way to Create Business by Lynne Franks. "It's an incredibly comprehensive book, though at times, I felt that she could have elaborated more," Elizabeth says. "Her friendly, warm writing style made it seem like I was getting advice from a friend."
Also from Elizabeth today is another 'zine review: Memory and Dream #4. "If you're an artist or a journal-keeper, it's a must-have," she says.
Ziya Reynolds was greatly affected by the 1999 film Boys Don't Cry. The movie, starring Hilary Swank, "tells a familiar story -- one of homophobia, of being different and not knowing how to deal with it, of pain and love and, in the end, of the death of a young person lost in the world," Ziya says. "Several of the scenes where nearly impossible to watch, such real pain is evoked."
Tom Knapp's contribution to the movie section today is 1992's The Last of the Mohicans starring Daniel Day Lewis and Madeline Stowe. "The final sequence -- a running battle along a mountain cliff set off by a pulse-pounding Irish reel set -- is some of the finest film-making I've seen in terms of action and intensity," Tom says. "There is little dialogue in these final minutes, beyond exclamations, but it's hard to watch without a quickening heartbeat and a stirring of the soul."
Tom ends the day with another review in the Love & Rockets series from Gilbert & Jaime Hernandez. The sixth collection, Duck Feet, deals with plagues and witches. "Witches, according to Palomar folklore, have duck feet," Tom explains. "Whether the bruja who comes tapping her way into town has webs or toes is never resolved, but it seems fairly certain that she has some kind of power over the superstitious community."
That's all for today, folks! Check back in a few days for a special midweek update!
17 February 2001
The dreaded Valentine's Day has passed (as has the editor's birthday!), so we're back with a massive mid-February edition to chase those winter blues away.
Tom Knapp fires up the engine today with Kindle, the debut album from a new Cape Breton band, Celtic Tide. "The band's grasp of musical traditions is strong, and the musicians certainly don't flinch from employing traditional techniques throughout the recording," Tom says. "Neither are they worried about imposing their own sense of style and injecting a healthy dose of modern musical ideals into their sound."
Paul de Bruijn is next with Flora MacNeil and Orain Floraidh: The Songs of Flora MacNeil, a collection of Gaelic waulking songs with MacNeil's own personal stamp. "There is a cleanness of line, a simplicity to the sound of the songs which adds to their beauty," Paul says. "She lets the tone, the sound and the pace paint the mood for each."
Laurie Thayer takes a journey with classical violinist Steve Schuch & the Night Heron Consort for Crossing the Waters, an album with "a fascinating blend of Celtic, baroque and Gypsy sounds." Laurie urges: "Sit back with a cup of tea, and you too can get lost in Crossing the Waters."
Donna Scanlon is next with a re-release of three Raffi CDs in one package: Raffi's Box of Sunshine comprises the earlier albums Rise and Shine, One Light, One Sun and Everything Grows. "Some of it is silly, some is sweet while other tracks will have everyone on their feet and dancing," Donna says. "Much of Raffi's original music celebrates the simple joys in life while promoting respect for other people and for the planet. The message comes across without bludgeoning the listener with a didactic lesson."
For our jazz fans today, we have Lynne Remick's review of the self-titled CD from Dancing Fantasy. "Although I think this collection is mis-titled -- the 'dancing' throws one off in terms of expectation -- it is a must-listen-to for jazz lovers," Lynne says. "For me, Dancing Fantasy was such a pleasant experience that "Jazz Sundays" (a late-morning/early afternoon breakfast with mimosas and jazz ear candy) are back!"
Chet Williamson cheerfully sings the blues with Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater, whose album Reservation Blues shows the experience of 50 years. "If you're looking for a traditional Chicago blues album, you won't find it here," Chet says. "Oh, there's some, but you'll hear mostly great R&B, performed by a veteran blues vocalist with a pure blues sensibility."
Our folk-rock section begins with Rachel Jagt's review of Robert Crenshaw's Victory Songs. "I liked this record the first time I heard it; on closer inspection, I only liked it more," Rachel says. "Crenshaw's affinity for finely crafted pop songs is a strong asset and his versatility as a vocalist and a musician make him a well-rounded performer with great potential."
Wil Owen keeps things rolling with Carla Ulbrich and Her Fabulous Debut. "It is hysterical," Wil says. "And if Carla's sharp wit isn't enough to grab your interest, her guitar playing surely will be."
Wil also shares his impressions of This Small Town by the Dilettantes. "In my opinion, it would make a nice addition to most music collections," Wil says. "I, for one, look forward to seeing what Jennifer and her bandmates bring to life in the future."
Robin Brenner settles back with the folkier sounds of J.P. Jones on his way Back to Jerusalem, which Robin calls a partial success. "An appealing combination of electronic melodies, traditional South American flutes and jaunty percussion makes for an infectious series of songs, and when he is at his most whimsical, he is at his best," she says. "Too often, though, the self-consciously clever lyrics weigh down the effervescence of the music and are too often riddled with cliches."
Laurie Thayer returns for her 75th Rambles review with The Surreal Life Adventures of Stella Quest, a blend of music and storytelling by Selia Qynn. "The storyline is firmly new age, especially with the magical, mist-dancing dolphins," Laurie says, "but the music tends to blur into different genres, including folk, a bit of blues and folk-rock."
Jamie O'Brien, already an accomplished guitarist, sees what Bill Brennan has to offer in the instructional tunebook, Irish & Scottish Airs & Ballads for Acoustic Guitar. "The book is probably best suited to those doing something I really should have done many years ago -- people who want to learn how to play guitar, rather than those like myself who wanted simply to play guitar," Jamie says.
Donna Scanlon is delighted with the fantasy world invoked by Dia Calhoun in Aria of the Sea. The novel "provides interesting lively characters, a feisty heroine with whom the reader sympathizes instantly and a compelling story told against an elaborate backdrop," Donna says. "Aria of the Sea will appeal instantly to young readers who love fantasy, magic and dance, and Dia Calhoun is well on the way to establishing herself as a leading name in young adult fiction."
Ziya Reynolds turns us to science fiction with Mortal Engines by Stanislaw Lem, a collection of robot-centered myths, fairy tales and adventure stories. "Originally written and translated in the 1970s, the stories in this anthology seem almost timeless, in that they belong to no specific era of science fiction," Ziya says. "They are told in old-fashioned, seemingly scientific/baroque language which enhances the believability of Lem's robotic characters."
Conor O'Connor enjoys the hard SF writing of Joan Slonczewski in The Children Star. However, Conor says, "while good science-fictional ideas abound, there remains to the novel an overall emotional and intellectual flatness."
Rambles regular Amy Harlib concludes today's SF triumvirate with Gregory Benford's new novel, The Martian Race. "The best part of this plausible work of extrapolation is Mars itself -- geography beautifully described and with its strange and intriguing imagined ecology utterly fascinating," Amy says. "Also Benford's smooth and solid prose style, fully fleshed-out characters, believable background details on Earth and Mars, and a plot full of intrigue, adventure, wit and a touch of romance and suspense makes The Martian Race a hard SF novel that's a real winner!"
This is an unusual direction for Rambles, but staff writer Elizabeth Badurina felt a calling to explore the world of finance and commerce. So, she sought help from Paul Tiffany and Steven Peterson, authors of Business Plans for Dummies. Apparently, the book is less useful for intelligent folks; as Elizabeth says, "it's worth it -- but barely."
Tom Knapp, still reeling from the election turmoil which has continued the American political system's downward spin, looks to a better day with a better man in the Oval Office: Dave. "Sure, the movie spirals into a typical Hollywood romance where none was really needed," Tom says. "But I'll overlook that bit of predictability because it never dominates the film and, besides, this movie is so darn fun and it makes so many good points along the way. It's been a long time since Americans were truly proud of their government; it was nice, even knowing it was only a movie, to believe it might be possible someday."
Janine Kauffman enlists the aid of 4-year-old Sarah to help her review the recent animated feature, The Tigger Movie. "There are some creative little moments," says Janine. "I really liked Roo," adds Sarah.
Ronnie Lankford completes our cinematic triple-header by shooting back in time to spend a little nostalgic time with John Wayne and director John Ford in The Searchers. The movie, Ronnie says, "remains moving and relevant, and even finds director John Ford beginning to question the myths (myths he helped establish) of the West."
Tom Knapp continues this day's festivities with a grim collection from DC Comics' Vertigo line: Hellblazer: Hard Time by Brian Azzarello and Richard Corben. In short, Tom says, "it's an ugly story, through and through."
As a final, extra bonus, Tom shares some insights from renowned whale biologist Katy Payne, who spent some time on land and discovered a new form of mammalian communication: elephant songs.
That's it for today. See you back at Rambles soon!
10 February 2001
With his scars slowly fading and his grip strength back up to 50 percent, our editor has been given the green light to resume playing the fiddle following corrective carpal tunnel surgery on both hands just over one month ago. With that piece of good news, it's time to head on into this week's reviews!
Cheryl Turner was "mystified, but intrigued" by the notion of a relaxation album from frantic Cape Breton fiddler Howie MacDonald. Nevertheless, MacDonald's Just Relax has impressed her. "Although not in the style people have come to expect from Howie MacDonald, this album certainly shines," Cheryl says.
Jo Morrison is thrilled by the latest release from Alan Stivell, who "could easily be called both the father of modern Celtic music and the person who started the rebirth of the Celtic harp." His album Back to Breizh focuses on his Breton heritage, Jo says. "Stivell fans will not want to miss this one, and if you aren't yet familiar with his music, this is an excellent place to start."
Tom Knapp had a mixed reaction to Knot Loitering by the Ohio-based Celtic band Knot Fibb'n. "There's a lot to like about this album and, with more vocal strength, this could be a band to contend with," Tom says. "For now, however, I recommend this one for the instrumental pieces, which shine."
And now for something completely different ... Chet Williamson introduces us to a world of musical strangeness in Orbitones, Spoon Harps & Bellowphones: Experimental Musical Instruments. This book and recording by various artists and musical pioneers is a treat, Chet says. "If you've been depressed because so much music sounds alike lately, here's the remedy. The combination of wild music, the descriptive book, and the photos of these oddball instruments will have you raising your eyebrows and listening like you've never listened before."
Chris Simmons appears all too infrequently here at Rambles, but when he does, he makes it count. Take today's entry, Foundation: The Doc Watson Guitar Instrumental Collection, 1964-1998. "Simply put," Chris says, "Foundation contains some of the finest music ever recorded."
Ken Fasimpaur goes jazzy with Kozo's Planned Penetration. "Kozo excels in forming soundscapes, sometimes nearly ambient or techno combinations of machines and brass," Ken says. "Planned Penetration is almost a soundtrack for a film you can imagine for yourself, one as gloomy or bleak as you like, where you can let the world fall into your shooting script wherever they seem to fit."
Tom Knapp guides our shift into a folk-rock vein with Arielle Silver's 3 Minute Song. "Arielle's intention here is to lay emotions bare," Tom says, with songs "which reach deeply into her psyche and unveil a troubled place there."
Wil Owen continues the theme with Abbie Gardner's short, self-titled EP. "Abbie's pleasant voice and decent guitar playing left me wanting more," Wil says.
Amanda Fisher is next with Sue Jeffers' CD, One Man's Ceiling Is Just Another Man's Door. "I like One Man's Ceiling... quite a lot, and think fans of traditional politically aware folk who appreciate Seeger and the Guthries will be especially taken with Jeffers' style, skill and subject matter," Amanda says. "I'm glad to have encountered her music, and look forward to hearing more from her in the future."
Lynne Remick has mixed feelings about Kat Eggleston's 1994 recording, Second Nature. "Kat Eggleston's lyrical selections and vocals don't rise to the my level of expectation," Lynne says. "However, I must admit that the some of the more powerful music strongly appealed to me."
Ralph DiGennaro had the good fortune to attend a performance by Cliff Eberhardt in Bellmore, NY, which boasted excellent musicianship if a disappointing turn-out. "He is arguably one of the most engaging and entertaining performers in the folk music universe," Ralph says.
Tom Knapp explores the supernatural side of New England with Joseph A. Citro in Passing Strange: True Tales of New England Hauntings and Horror. "Passing Strange is one of the best books on supernatural happenings I've read in a good, long time," Tom says. "Anyone with an interest in the weird and unusual should pick up a copy, curl up under the covers ... and leave an extra light on."
It's a benchmark to remember: Terry Pratchett has released The Truth, his 25th Discworld novel, and Donna Scanlon is here with her review. "As always, the plot is laced with delicious deadpan humor, oodles of allusions and more footnotes than you can shake a lead slug at. The lunacy accelerates throughout the book, but at the same time, there is a foundation of substance and penetrating insight into human behavior. This title stands alone well and is sure to attract more Discworld devotees."
Donna also has Tanith Lee's entry into Terri Windling's Fairy Tales Series with "a dark and moody retelling of 'Snow White'" titled White as Snow. "The familiar story unfolds with Lee's own dark and bittersweet twist: the incorporation of the myth of Demeter and Persephone," Donna explains. "The two stories mesh wonderfully, giving the novel remarkable depth and dimension."
Julie Bowerman marks her 35th Rambles review with Soulsaver, James Stevens-Arce's cautionary tale of religious reckoning. "The tale is compelling, thought-provoking and disturbing," Julie says, "a quick-read that pulls the reader into a society we pray will never exist."
Amy Harlib has a time with cats and Marianne Mays' book Moggies: A Book for Owners of Non-Pedigree Cats. "Whether your cat is a purebred or of motley origins, Moggies -- with its distinctive outlook, entertaining yet practical presentation and charming photographic illustrations -- is a testimony to the fact that all felines, from the humble "moggy" to the noblest pedigreed breed, are equally deserving of care and love," Amy says.
Amy next unlocks the Rambles cineplex with her impression of the new take on Nosferatu, Shadow of the Vampire. This movie about the making of a classic vampire film "is remarkably effective at conveying the heady atmosphere of the times and in recreating the extraordinary iconic images that have inspired so many filmmakers down to the present day," Amy says.
Tom Knapp goes buggy with the Roald Dahl classic James & the Giant Peach. It's a strong follow-up from the same production team which brought The Nightmare Before Christmas to the screen, Tom says, and "while it doesn't exceed its predecessor, it does maintain a high level of excellence and keeps me watching for more in a similar vein."
Tom also has a new review for our graphic novels section: Shazam: Power of Hope by Paul Dini and Alex Ross. "It lacks action, but it's touching," Tom says. "It's a little sad, but still promotes a hopeful spirit, as the title suggests."
We end today's update with another entry for Elizabeth Badurina's 'zine page. Wishing Well, Elizabeth says, is "a heady experience to read."